If insurance companies use risk-based assessments to set your auto and life insurance rates, why not use them in court? There are ardent proponents of risk-based assessments in court as well as quite a few agnostics.
In theory, accurate assessments of offender risk can save money, promote efficient allocation of correctional resources, and better protect the public. In pursuit of these goals, some jurisdictions have begun using structured means of assessing relative risk. This article briefly describes modern risk assessment instruments, the reasons why they might be preferred over traditional means of assessing risk, and three principles—the fit, validity and fairness principles—that should govern their use. It then contends that, when limited by these or similar principles, criminal justice dispositions can justifiably be based on assessments of risk, despite concerns about their reliability, consistency and legitimacy. Inaccuracy and disparity is as prevalent in desert-based sentencing as it is in risk-based sentencing. More importantly, desert-based sentencing is not as consistent with, and risk-based sentencing is not as inimical to, autonomy and dignity values as is commonly thought. The overall goal of these arguments is to defend modern risk-based sentencing against abolitionist proposals that could do more harm than good, both to offenders and to a punishment system that, at least in the United States, is obscenely harsh.